It ain’t Sunday School that bugs me, really. The teachers do good work, and the head nun’s a nice enough dame, even if she did give me the hairy eyeball that time she saw me drop a cigarette in the trash can. And it ain’t that I’m bitter on account of them holding me back, neither. The fair fact is I don’t study, so you won’t catch me pulling sour grapes when my friends are moving into third grade and I’m still stuck in first, re-relearning the Lord’s Prayer. Hell, being an eight-year-old in a class full of six-year-old girls ain’t half bad. Once they hit eight, they get prissy and grown-up, so it’s nice getting with the babes while they’re young and still like to get loose.

Two Sundays ago, I was outside having a smoke, waiting for class to start. I was leaning against the wall, talking my usual to the chickies as they strolled into the building: “Hey-a Connie, tell your sister she’s a tease, a real hot number” — this while her sister’s standing right next to her, you know? The girls love bad boys, and I’m damn near as bad as they come. Once, a honey even asked me where I got a leather jacket in a child’s extra-small, while she’s feeling the rivets on it like as if they’re real metal. I was five when I met her, and she was older, the kind of seven-year-old that could talk her parents into letting her see a PG-13 flick, no problem.

Anyway, after class that Sunday two weeks back, I was standing outside the building again, waiting for my mom to pick me up. Connie’s sister came up to me, real shy-like, and asked if she could have some of my cigarette. I eyed her real hard, like I’s thinking on whether she’s hip, and gave her the rest of the smoke. As she started munching on it, I said, “You know if you concentrate, there’s a little chocolate taste behind all the sugar.” I know the nose of my brand — Necco Dinosaurs — better than anyone.

With the cig in her mouth, she loosened up and started talking. “I heard that next week, they’re taking us to Confession.” God damn it. Confession. Funny how one Sunday can ruin a year. It’s the nerve of the thing. I don’t like being pushed around any time, so you’d better be sure that when I face God, it should be because I want to. A guy like me’s got to get his affairs in order before Confession. It ain’t no in-and-out thing like for the rest of the chumps in the class.

The whole week before go time, I was thinking about what I’d tell the padre. Whoppers come real easy to me, but my old lady said that lying to God will kill an angel, and even I don’t want no part in nothing like that. Slippy’s up there with all his goldfish pals, and I ain’t gonna risk killing him again.

I’m man enough to admit that when the big day finally came, I was feeling the heat. Eight years of living in sin’ll do that. Ma said it was because I made her let me wear my black leather jacket in the late-May heat, but the lady don’t know what I get up to when she ain’t looking. You heard of Call of Duty? Sometimes the people online cuss.

I must have eaten my way through half a pack of smokes waiting for class to start, and that sugar high didn’t help nothing. Connie and her sister walked past me, and I got out, “You gals with the backpacks, yeah, you wait here for me after class. I’ve got something to show you.” They hadn’t seen my new tattoo. I’d gotten it from Party City a few days earlier and put it way up on my arm, so’s like only a real cheeky dame could get a peek.

But before I could get to that, I had to see to squaring things with the Almighty. As class started, I took my usual seat in the back and leaned in my chair against the radiator. They tell kids not to do that. The teacher, a mysterious type who looked like she’d let you stay up all the way past the news if she was babysitting you, announced what we all already knew, that we’d spend the day’s class in Confession. We all got up, formed a line, and marched through the corridors to the confessional.

Since I was at the end of the line, my shot at Reconciliation would come last. Sitting out in the hard pews waiting for his turn, a guy gets to thinking. Well, a guy would get to thinking if the pews weren’t so damn hard. So instead I spent a little while flipping the kneeler out and catching people in the ankles with it. I got to talking with one little birdie who said she liked my style, something about my shoelaces are double-knotted and how do you do that. Everything between her nose and her chin was blue from a snowcone she’d polished off before the 10:30 bell. I threw on a sly grin, leaned in close, and said, “Skylite, nice. Want a cigarette?” Before she could answer, the priest called her name, and off she went. There goes a sin she could’ve had. Me, I like to pack ’em in right before Confession.

By the time she split, my turn was coming in hot. It wasn’t hard to imagine the sob stories that poor priest had to sit through with the two dozen squares in my class. “I don’t always listen to my parents, and once I pushed my little brother.” Big deal, wuss. One time I took a daddy longlegs and ripped his legs off for no reason. What’s God’s rep in the stole supposed to say when he hears the tenth straight crybaby cop to not washing his hands after a tinkle? “Listen, kid, just take this Purell and get out of my face.” The Virgin Mary don’t need some pipsqueak kissing up to her with blessed art thou among women this, pray for us sinners that, just because the kid’s mommy had to say something twice.

When the hour of judgment arrived, I played it cool. Best save up the antics for my next vaccination at that butcher Dr. Koppel’s office. I breezed into the booth, slid the curtain shut behind me, and took a knee. I don’t wait around for things to happen, so I got right to it. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been a year since my last confession.” We breezed through the formalities, and next thing you know, I’m knocking the daddy’s socks off with the kind of stuff I’ll bet he don’t even hear from middle schoolers. It was a countdown of mortal sins that would embarrass Judas Iscariot: the thing with the daddy longlegs; my pack-a-day cig habit; the time I threw a rock clean through a wasp nest; the dozens of tattoos I’ve had; catching the tail end of a Chris Rock special once; the time I said the f-word; the time I lied about saying the f-word and tried to keep my dad from punishing me by telling him that I actually said, “Funk”, even though it was obvious that I’d said the f-word; the time I secretly gave my dad the middle finger after he’d sent me to my room for saying the f-word; and the time that I lied and said I was just looking at my ring finger when my dad walked in on me giving him the middle finger after he’d sent me to my room for saying the f-word.

The priest got ready to hand down my penance. It was real quiet. I heard him breathing hard, trying to figure out how the F I could unring the bell with the Big Three. Finally, he sighed and said, “Son, I want you to think hard about how you can love God, because he loves you and will forgive you for anything. Your penance is three Hail Marys and one Lord’s Prayer, and I want you to give your parents a hug when you get home.”

I don’t figure I’ll ever meet a joe as hard as me. But I’ll be damned if that priest doesn’t come close. Hearing my rap sheet, he didn’t see fit to hand down nothing heavier than four prayers and a token gesture of love? Lord knows what a guy’d have to do to get community service. I did my Act of Contrition, crossed myself, and got the hell out of there. Anyone half as cold as me ain’t no one to hang with longer than you’ve got to.